Rhode Islanders must act if they want better life

Do we want to be an Entitlement State or a State of Prosperity?

OpEd by Mike Stenhouse; as published in the Providence Journal (7-29-12)

What kind of state do Rhode Islanders really want? Who will provide the vision and leadership that will lead to renewed opportunities and prosperity for our citizens?

Rhode Island has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, yet our political leaders do nothing about it.

Ours is the worst ranked state in terms of business climate, yet our business leaders do not cry out.

We have one of the highest state and local tax burdens in the country, yet citizens remain silent.

We have dangerously high unfunded pension and benefit liabilities, yet the political class does nothing to help our municipalities.

We are losing population and wealth to neighboring states and throughout the country, yet the defenders of the status quo stick their heads in the sand and say “it isn’t so.”

We have the most burdensome level of health-insurance mandates in the nation, yet the Chafee administration is pushing us towards even more government control of our personal health-care decisions.

We have the highest sales tax in New England, yet our political class actually voted to expand the tax, even to some of the poorest among us.

Soon, research from our center will show that Rhode Island is uniquely positioned in the nation as a failing economic state, yet most members of the local media do not raise awareness or seek accountability from our public officials.

The list could go on and on, but the real question is whether Rhode Islanders really want to continue down the same path that has failed our state so miserably or if we can find the willpower to tear down the barriers that have prevented us from increasing our quality of life.

Do we as a people want to live in an entitlement state or in a state of prosperity? One could reasonably assume, based on the above pattern of apathy, that we collectively want the former. But I doubt that.

So what is a concerned citizen to do? Especially when there is no leadership coming from policy-makers?

With the 2012 election rapidly approaching full campaign mode, the choice cannot be clearer for voters. There are two starkly different visions for our state: one that defends a status quo that tries to centrally engineer our society; and one that promotes bold reforms that restore individual control of our lives and a positive sense of self-determination to our citizens.

Whether you are an average Joe (or Joe-Ann), a business owner or a student, it is important that you understand your duty as a vigilant citizen and that you are empowered to make a difference. First, you can think about and develop a core set of political principles that will guide you. Second, you can become educated about the issues and encourage discussion and debate within your various circles of friends, family and colleagues. Third, you can become actively engaged by supporting organizations, campaigns, or policy initiatives that are consistent with your core principles.

This summer and fall, you can stand up where others have fallen down. Demand of candidates who knock on your door, call your home, or conduct town-hall-type meetings to clearly tell you whether they will defend the status quo or whether they will openly support the bold reform initiatives that our state so desperately needs.

Reforms like: lowering sales, income and corporate taxes; like providing school choice for students condemned to a failing school; like implementing patient-centered health-care reforms vs. government-centered; like constructive collective bargaining reform for government workers.

As a state we can choose to perpetuate our downward spiral by allowing to stand the government regulations that infringe upon our freedoms and limit our capacity to thrive; or, we can choose to begin to rebuild our economy by unleashing the great potential within each of us. The choice is indeed yours — and ours — to make; especially when most everyone else is afraid or incapable of leading!

Mike Stenhouse is the chief executive of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a conservative think tank.

Related Commentary: 2013 Budget Fails to be Bold

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